Mean Girls
July 30, 2008 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Why don't other women like me? Women who meet me singly, or as part of a mixed-gender group usually like me. I function just fine in mixed-gender or mostly male situations. When I'm part of an all-woman group, I get bullied and scapegoated. In particular, the "queen bee" of the group almost always singles me out as a target. What am I doing wrong?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Tell us a little more about yourself, especially about your looks, and describe a particular situation. It could be a response triggered by jealousy, but hard to say without more details.
posted by francesca too at 7:52 PM on July 30, 2008

A bit more information might be needed. How exactly does the queen bee pick on you - does she target looks, manners, attitudes? What's your personality type - introverted, extroverted, etc?
posted by ebellicosa at 7:53 PM on July 30, 2008

Hmmm, not too much info to go on here. Things I would want to know would include how old you are, where you're meeting these groups, and what you do when you meet them. Might this comment from a similar thread apply to you? Lots of interesting points available in that thread.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:55 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is impossible to answer if we don't know a single thing about you, especially how you socialize, and extra especially how you socialize in a group of women. Maybe follow up with a mod so that he or she can post some extra info anonymously; and then us MeFites can answer with specific and useful responses.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:55 PM on July 30, 2008

If you weren't anon, I'd ask what kind of "bullying" you're receiving. As a woman, I know that if there's one man in a group of women, he is almost always the target of a lot of teasing and ribbing. Usually good-natured, but sometimes with a slightly nasty undertone. I'd call it part of the war between the sexes.
posted by lunasol at 7:56 PM on July 30, 2008

Crap, missed the "other" in the first sentence and thought you were a dude. Apologies!
posted by lunasol at 8:00 PM on July 30, 2008

Definitely follow up with more details through a moderator. Feel free to MeMail me. I've had this happen at various stages of life, depending on whom I was trying to hang out with (and you can read into that: it stopped, when I stopped trying to hang out with certain gaggles of women and found cooler ones to spend time with...I'll just say that "The Lord of the Flies" would have been a much more evil and brutal tale if it had been a stranded group of girls....and as a feminist it pains me to admit that).
posted by availablelight at 8:02 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Since you didn't give a lot of details, I'm going to apply my position to yours, since you've (vaguely) described my position - a female with an almost exclusively male friendships, and the problems you'll have with their significant others.

You're doing nothing wrong. I just get along better with men - that's just how it is, and I'm assuming, it seems with you as well. Where you and I see friendship with the dudes, the queen bee sees you encroaching on her territory.

If these are groups of women you are going to be around a lot (most likely girlfriends or wives of your guy friends), my advice to you is to hang with the guys, and one of the girlfriends/wives. Include her in on the fun you and the guys have. Next time you are in the girly pack, you'll have a way into their circle - "That movie we saw with -insert dudes names here- was crazy, wasn't it? Hi everyone!" Rinse and repeat with other members of the circle, and eventually queenie there will come around.

Otherwise, fuck them. You have the option to surround yourself with people you like and make you feel good, and if they make you feel like shit then they don't deserve the pleasure of your company. FUCK THEM. If they are bullying you or in any way making you feel uncomfortable - and if this is a position where you are friends with their boyfriend/husband - and your friend the boyfriend/husband is not helping you - then fuck him too.

My situation may not apply to yours, but the part about who you surround yourself with stands strong. People who cut you down are never worth your time.
posted by sephira at 8:08 PM on July 30, 2008

In my experience, the queen bee always picks on someone by whom she feels threatened.

What am I doing wrong?

How could we possibly know what you're doing wrong when you've given us zero details to work with? Please follow up with a mod.
posted by iconomy at 8:11 PM on July 30, 2008

A few months ago I was talking to an old coworker who it turned out had (several years after we worked together) coincidentally worked at a different business where I later worked for several years - but our tenures at the second business didn't overlap at all and I'd never known she'd worked there. And she complained about the clique-ish, catty environment there, which kind of surprised me as I'd found it rather neutral. But thinking back I realized that I had socialized with the particular group she'd been discussing a couple times and just lost interest in pursuing any social interaction with this group. I didn't really even consciously register until my friend brought it up that I'd reacted to that sort of vibe they had.

I haven't felt socially bullied in literally decades because I won't hang with people who behave like that. Life is too short. When I can't avoid being in a group with that sort of vibe I unconsciously tune them out because it's boring. I believe that an adult in a power neutral situation (as opposed to a situation where there is a real power balance issue, like in a job) cannot be bullied without being complicit. If you don't buy into their bullshit it can't really affect you. Of course it's a drag but that's why I never allow myself to be forced into having extensive interaction with people who are that petty and small. One of the nice things about being an adult is that you get to define your own peer group. Don't change yourself, just change your environment as needed, and remember my tried and true mantra where assholes are concerned: fuck 'em.
posted by nanojath at 8:28 PM on July 30, 2008 [12 favorites]

I think there could be a few different things going on. The other women might feel threatened by your physical appearance. I've seen groups of women behave awfully to other women they perceive as more attractive. You might be dealing with women who are worried you are going to steal the spotlight somehow.

You could also be unintentionally physically expressing the way you are feeling. I know a woman who says other women are mean to her and she has a hard time making friends. When I watch her, I notice that her posture is really bad, she doesn't make eye contact and she acts like a skittish animal that thinks it is going to get kicked. Then, when she's talking to people, she's really whiny, doesn't smile, only talks about herself and is sort of curt and unfriendly. Bullies seem to gravitate towards this type of person like ants on honey.

As far as my own admitted bullying tendencies, it drives me crazy to hear another woman announce that she prefers the company of men or that she thinks all women are bitches. I'm guilty of snarking on misogynistic ladies to their faces.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:14 PM on July 30, 2008 [10 favorites]

Very little information in the question, so this may be entirely off base. However . . .

It stuck out to me that you talked about how it's women you don't get along with and that the "queen bee" picks on you. In my experience. women who talk this way about women socially have some negative feelings and stereotypes about women in general---that we're gossipy or backbiting or what have you. If you have these feelings, it's possible other women are picking up on it.

I also hear the "I don't get along with women" argument from a lot of women who are used to the extra attention (hetero/bi) male friends give them and feel like women are being mean if that attention isn't there.

I know this answer comes off as probably blaming you for the situation, but I went on what little you offered. Feel free to MeMail me if you like :-)
posted by lacedback at 9:19 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

"I don't get along with women" != "I get along better with men"
posted by sephira at 9:53 PM on July 30, 2008

Do you take over the group conversation and make it all about you? And/or talk down to the rest of the women in the group, or make it sound kind of like you have all the answers and they are lost? The only time I've ever seen anything close to bullying happen amongst a group of adult women is when they were trying to protect one another from someone who was (perhaps unconsciously) making people in the group feel badly about themselves and their choices. This may not be what you're doing, but fwiw.
posted by onlyconnect at 10:10 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

It definitely would help to know if you're extremely introverted or extroverted. Maybe if you turned it around and asked yourself what it is that makes you successful when with men/single women?

I'll just say that "The Lord of the Flies" would have been a much more evil and brutal tale if it had been a stranded group of girls

Tiny derail: There is a Lord of the Flies with girls--see Marianne Wiggins' John Dollar
posted by thomas j wise at 10:25 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

In my experience. women who talk this way about women socially have some negative feelings and stereotypes about women in general---that we're gossipy or backbiting or what have you. If you have these feelings, it's possible other women are picking up on it.

This is also my experience.

If this always happens to you with groups of women, the common denominator is you.

A) Do you have those "negative feelings and stereotypes?" If so, people are picking up on them, and it's pissing them off.

Let's assume you don't have that stuff going, though. Moving on, some options from most to least likely:

B) Do you have a cultural or personal style of relating that is unusual for women in the culture/community where you live? I've had odd interactions with all-female groups in some cultural contexts because I am very blunt-spoken (and I swear like a sailor). It's something I try to be careful about in a professional or civic setting, because it can freak people out. Fortunately, my friends don't mind.

C) Are you expressing some kind of fear or scorn or distance pre-emptively because you have had difficult experiences with female groups in the past?

D) Chances are infinitesimal that the other women pick on you because you're better-looking than they are--that's the Hollywood stereotype, and like most Hollywood stereotypes, it's almost never the case in real life. If you're over 30, it's even less likely that this is the case.

Even if you're looking at a superficial, appearance-obsessed dysfunctional group of women, particularly younger women, the Hollywood stereotype still isn't accurate. Usually, in these groups, the "Queen Bee" is the second "best-looking" (by whatever cultural or subcultural standards), and she usually cultivates the "best-looking" as one of her BFF in her ruling triumvirate (the other triumvir is the one with the most acid tongue). In real life, the picked-on person is almost never the "prettiest" one in such groups--it's almost always the most emotionally vulnerable one.

So it may be the case that you're dealing with dysfunctional groups that need to establish a "pecking order," and you're getting pecked-on because you're emotionally vulnerable (perhaps because of C)--it's a vicious circle).

If so, I'd encourage you to avoid dysfunctional groups. There are other options out there.

And when you have to deal with a dysfunctional group (like in a workplace), don't show vulnerability.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:48 PM on July 30, 2008 [9 favorites]

Eh-- we really need to hear back from the OP at this point.

She also says she does fine individually with women, or in mixed (i.e. with other women present) company, so my hunch is that this isn't one of those, "You just want to hang out with boys because then your a princess" situation, like some have suggested. She's NOT saying, "Why are women such lame haters who don't like me?"...she's specifically addressing group issues.

D) Chances are infinitesimal that the other women pick on you because you're better-looking than they are--that's the Hollywood stereotype, and like most Hollywood stereotypes, it's almost never the case in real life. If you're over 30, it's even less likely that this is the case.

Unfortunately, I don't know that this is really true...and unmarried (and frantic) women over the age of 30 can be the worst offenders, especially in a setting where they're gauging who's getting what kind of attention from men. (i.e. are you going out to places like bars, where they're there to find Mr. Right Husband? Is it a coworker situation where you appear to be more appealing to higher-ups or the dudes in the office, either due to competence or charm? Do they have any other hobbies or interests besides dating/male attention? etc.) If you're much younger or thinner, the claws can and do come out if you're running with the wrong crowd.

Not all women suck though--in fact, over the age of 30 it's a much smaller percentage that do, so print out nanojath's comment and hang it on your bathroom mirror. And find confident women who'd rather spend their time volunteering, arguing about the op-eds in the morning Times, always have a good book going, etc.....instead of deriving entertainment, "bonding", and self-esteem though playing petty dominance games straight outta the high school cafeteria.
posted by availablelight at 4:07 AM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tiny derail: There is a Lord of the Flies with girls--see Marianne Wiggins' John Dollar
posted by thomas j wise at 1:25 AM on July 31 [+] [!]

ooooh, thanks. Will add it to the summer reading list.
posted by availablelight at 4:14 AM on July 31, 2008

When I'm part of an all-woman group, I get bullied and scapegoated. In particular, the "queen bee" of the group almost always singles me out as a target. What am I doing wrong?

Hanging out with the wrong women.
posted by flabdablet at 4:36 AM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

One last thought: avoid social groups where an identifiable "Queen Bee" even exists....because past the age of 25 or so this is a red flag for unhealthy group dynamics.
posted by availablelight at 4:43 AM on July 31, 2008 [4 favorites]

I just had lunch yesterday with a friend who has a constant stream of queen-bee drama in her life [she's in her late 30s]. Here are my observations:

- She tends to think about who she should be friends with rather than looking for a true connection with other people. She's a lawyer's wife and sends her kids to a snooty private school, so she tends to gravitate to the ultra-social circle which by its very nature is very elitist and hard to break into.

- She has unresolved issues about feeling like an outcast in high school, so every perceived slight is like a time machine that propels her back to her teen years.

- She overanalyzes and over-personalizes people's words and actions. My mother has a saying - "Nobody's looking at you anyway" - which seems harsh at first, but I've found it helpful to realize that It's Not About Me.

- She comes across as a bit insecure and sweet-but-dumb which, unfortunately, can bring out the claws for people who smell fear and go in for the kill. If she were more confident, or even nonchalant, I think she would be at worst ignored and at best more comfortable.

Another thought: are you, by any chance, an only child? I am, and it took me a long time to get used to teasing. I've noticed that people who have siblings tend to have a better tolerance for group interaction and are less likely to think that someone is being "mean."
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:11 AM on July 31, 2008 [3 favorites]

I also hear the "I don't get along with women" argument from a lot of women who are used to the extra attention (hetero/bi) male friends give them and feel like women are being mean if that attention isn't there.

To suggest another, more extreme possibility along these lines, I had a female roommate who told me soon after we met that she didn't have very many female friends and got along better with men. Over the year and a half we lived together the reasons for this became obvious. She was subservient to the men in her life, catering to them and taking all kinds of bad treatment. Whereas with women she was zero-tolerant of any behaviour she didn't like, and she would have sacrificed any female friend for any man.

I'm not suggesting you're like her, of course, but you may want to analyze your behaviour for different expectations and behaviours respecting men and women.
posted by orange swan at 5:25 AM on July 31, 2008 [3 favorites]

I know someone who regularly makes this same sort of complaint. It isn't because she is pretty or successful or in any way a threat at all to the women who supposedly slight her (and I have yet to come across grown women who actually behave like that). Most of the slights that this woman experiences are completely in her head; she insists this person or that person hates her, they look at her funny, they bad talk about her when she isn't around, they're so mean, blahblah frickin blah. That sounds insensitive, but initially her complaints are not true; initially, nobody is paying her anywhere near the amount of attention she has percieved, but after repeatedly making herself out to be the victim, repeatedly stating other whacked out perceptions that just aren't true (she will retell stories of interactions she's had with people--people she met just once, customer service people on the phone, the mailperson, whoever, and will spin the story with the "see how this person picked on me" angle when my perception of the original event was that it was a fairly standard interaction).

I think that she probably feels threatened by other women and so is super sensitive to how they treat her in a group situation. This person is generally obnoxious anyway, but most people are okay putting up with that; however, in a group situation where she is trying extra hard to be whatever and is super sensitive to how she is coming off and how other people are treating her, some people are going to lose their patience a little more quickly and she is going to overreact to any kind of teasing or treatment. When teased one on one, she seems okay.
posted by Polychrome at 6:15 AM on July 31, 2008

Not saying this is you, but I have known some women who are incredibly insecure and competitive with other women, who keep track of every positive remark people make about other women, and who find a way to twist every remark made to or about themselves into insults. And let me tell you, they were not fun to talk with or be around, because everyone was on eggshells around them the entire time, and of course those who refused to do the eggshell walk were "cruel" and "out to get" them.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 7:11 AM on July 31, 2008

All this talk about women getting picked on out of jealousy or threat is really outside my experience. I've never seen a group go after the prettiest woman, or the most successful, provided that girl was also socially normal.

I was picked on quite a bit in junior high, in part for doing well in my classes, but I don't think anyone was jealous. It was just that doing well and reading a lot marked me as a vulnerable outsider, who was flaunting the norm.

I've always seen the Queen Bee picking on women who were in some way vulnerable to scapegoating. More like in pluckysparrow's second paragraph - outsiders, "weirdoes," girls who wouldn't fight back, or who were emotionally vulnerable. They choose victims they figure no one else will like or stand up for.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:23 AM on July 31, 2008 [3 favorites]

I've got to agree with Squeak Attack here. I've NEVER seen a "Queen Bee" type pick on the "best-looking" woman in a group. "Queen Bee" types are always, in my experience, desperate to co-opt the "best-looking" woman into their inner circle.

The "claws" don't "come out" for the circle's acknowledged beauty. The people who get the claws are the ones who are perceived as a) vulnerable, b) trying too hard, or c) a challenge to the "Queen Bee"'s authority.

Anyway, what a number of people have said already: avoid this kind of dysfunctional group wherever possible, and if it's not possible to avoid it (as in a work situation), fly under the radar as much as possible and never let them see you sweat.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:31 AM on July 31, 2008

You're usually the hottest girl in the room, I will wager. The word "scapegoated" is the tipoff here.

It probably goes something like: "Women like you are taking all of the good, rich men away from women like us." or "How can we compete with women like you."

That's a topic that is usually discussed by women when there are no men around.

And if they're married and not as attractive as you, they are probably thinking about their husbands cheating on them with a hotter woman, so they are projecting their insecurities on you.
posted by Zambrano at 9:01 AM on July 31, 2008

I personally have more male than female relationships as well; I don't feel attacked by a Queen-Bee situation in my case, but in every other respect I'm in the same boat as the OP.

I just chalk that up to not having had all that much in common with the all-women groups I've been in, though. I'm not married, I've never had kids, and I never got much into fashion and beauty, so put me in with a group of women discussing where to find cute maternity clothes and I'll zone out. And when I started talking about some of the stuff I was interested in, THEY zone out.

But this is not to say that I'm not capable of having friendships with women -- or even women who ARE different from me. My best friend IS married with a kid, but we already know we have other things in common (we've known each other since we were 12). And I have some female friends here, but they're also into the same things I am.

I think, though, the thing is that if I am in with a group that is talking about something I'm not into, I just smile politely and stay quiet. Contribute if I can, but otherwise let them be. I don't make friends, no, but I don't piss them off either, and the worst that happens is I'm bored for a while.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:04 AM on July 31, 2008

Zambrano, FWIW that has NEVER been my experience. If I was in a group of women saying things like that I'd either assume they were kidding or run far away, because they'd be space aliens or something.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:12 AM on July 31, 2008 [6 favorites]

There's some great advice here. I'm going to say that there are three possible things that are going on here, but, luckily, one solution that should help alleviate all three.

1. For some reason, the "Queen Bee" is threatened by you. This doesn't necessarily mean it's about physical appearance. I'm in a graduate writing program, and while there's a good amount of competitiveness about appearance, a lot of it seems to be over either talent or some sort of inherent "coolness." Most of the women were used to being the pretty, talented girls or the cool, creative girls of their former social circle, and there was a period of cattiness while we all adjusted and redefined ourselves. Anyway, yes, it is possible that, for some reason, the Queen Bee thinks you're going to take over the hive, and she wants to cut you down.

2. You're obviously insecure, and the Queen Bee (or her minions) want to take advantage of that to display their social power. Because you either seem to want their social approval or just look unlikely to stick up for yourself, you're an easy target.

3. You're paranoid and this is mostly in your head, or it's something that is there in small amounts and you're blowing it way out of proportion due to insecurity. As someone suggested above, you might be used to having your ego stroked by your male friends because of some sort of flirtatious/sexual undertone to the friendship and you might be mistaking the lack of this for "meanness."

The solution to any of these scenarios (and the reality might be a mixture of two or even all three of these) is to work on your self-esteem. You need to create a version of yourself that exudes confidence. That way, the Queen Bee won't be able to cut you down. You won't be an obvious target. You won't need so much external validation. And you'll be able to let those paranoid thoughts--which strike all of us, at times--go.

As for becoming confident? That's difficult, but acting confident, and stopping yourself from victimizing yourself, goes a long way.

Part of being confident is sticking up for yourself, though, and this might be difficult, but I think it's key. Think about your male friends: when one of them picks on another (which happens pretty often with them, too, right?) the one getting picked on rarely passively accepts it. When someone says something catty to you, tell them it's unacceptable. It might make for an awkward couple of minutes, but either they'll own up to it, or keep it up and reveal themselves as people who really aren't worth your time. But think about it--the people who get picked on are rarely the ones who will take-crap-from-nobody; usually, they're the ones who take-crap-from-everybody.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:16 AM on July 31, 2008 [3 favorites]

(Caveat being that I'm talking about adults here. Victims of childhood bullying are another story, entirely)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:18 AM on July 31, 2008

small_ruminant, since he's a man, I too was puzzled by Zambrano having such certainty about how women act when men aren't around. From what he's written above, I assume his information comes from Jackie Collins novels, but of course the OP can take whatever advice she favors.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:23 AM on July 31, 2008 [5 favorites]

So, I can only speak from my own experience, but I am not the prettiest girl in any group, but I often played the outsider role in my 20s when I tolerated such things.

I like immature boy things - video games, D&D, etc. My attempts at small talk with very "girlie" women fall flat if I get stuck on my typical topics of excitement. They don't understand how I can love cartoons and I can't fake make up or fashion, just because it shows that I don't care. What I have found, however, that being more comfortable in who I am and doing my best to find common ground makes things easier.

If there's a conversation that has nothing to do with any of my interests, I play the tourist, asking an occasional question, etc. rather than just looking bored. (And I am genuinely curious about things like fancy restaurants or Kate Spade bags, even if they have nothing to do with me. Curiosity and sociology, I guess.) People like questions, even if they think I'm an idiot for not knowing what an espadrille is, if I bring it up first, I own it and then they get to talk about themselves and I get an insight into their thinking.

Because if you don't want to be there, it shows. So either find a way to enjoy being there or don't. Or look for people to hang with based on common interests and don't sweat the gender.
posted by Gucky at 10:23 AM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another vote for "The opinion expressed by Zambrano is totally mistaken."

I've been a woman for 43 years. I have a lot of first-hand experience of being in all-female groups, including dysfunctional all-female groups. If the OP were "the hottest girl in the room," the Queen Bees would be much more likely to be trying to co-opt her, rather than to pick on her. That's how it usually pans out in real life.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:26 AM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Having seen people who are likely in the same situation as you - it's very likely that it's mostly, initially, in your head. It builds up and builds up and you get more and more paranoid and that gets reflected in your actions and then it's no longer your just imagining things but people do go out of their way to pick on you.

Then again, "When you talk about yourself all the time, of course people are going to keep doing it for you when you're not around."
posted by porpoise at 11:38 AM on July 31, 2008

I would agree that it is most likely that the OP is either
(a) a nerdy sort and thus has a target painted on her ass,
(b) not girly enough when the conversation revolves around marriage/babies/cleaning. I hate to say it, but most of the time when I'm around all females and none of us have the same hobby, all the conversations revolve around those three things. (God, that gets OLD.)
(c) is of different marriage/kid status than the rest of the group, and is thus seen as either a threat or someone they are terribly jealous of.

I can't say I ever saw a pretty girl getting picked on for being a pretty girl, ever.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:49 PM on July 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

I would just like to disagree with the comments or implications that someone has to like talking about hair, makeup, maternity clothes, or fashion to have a group of women friends. My female friends mostly talk about environmental policy and city planning, as well as people's careers and personal lives, whatever they are like. I recommend you go to grad school in your topic of interest if you cannot find a group of female friends who can talk about interesting things.

What am I doing wrong?

This is a great question to ask a sympathetic member of one of those groups in private.
posted by salvia at 10:08 PM on July 31, 2008

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